Elisa Shackelton: Pack a safe lunch, not an intestinal one-two punch

Extension Connection

September marks the start of the school year and National Food Safety Education month.

Whether you or your kids are packing a lunch for work or school, follow these easy tips to minimize the risk of foodborne illness:

Quick tips for packing a safe lunch:

• Always keep it clean. Make sure your hands, food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean. Use hot, soapy water to effectively get rid of bacteria. Teach everyone in the family to wash their hands before handling food and before eating. Also be sure to wash fruits and vegetables before packing them in a lunch.

• Be sure to keep hot foods such as soup, chili or stew hot by using an insulated bottle. Fill the bottle with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. Empty the bottle and then fill it with piping hot food. Keep the bottle closed until lunchtime.

• Cold foods should stay cold, so invest in a freezer gel pack and an insulated lunch box. Freezer gel packs will keep foods cold until lunchtime, but are not recommended for all-day storage. Any perishable food (i.e. meat, chicken or egg sandwiches) not eaten at lunch should be discarded. A frozen 100-percent juice box can work like a gel pack, too.

• If you carry your lunch in a brown paper bag, it's especially important to include a cold source. A freezer gel pack or a frozen sandwich work well. Because brown paper bags tend to become soggy or leak as cold foods thaw, be sure to use an extra paper bag to create a double layer. Double-bagging also will help insulate the food better.

• Store lunches out of direct sunlight and away from radiators, baseboards and other heat sources.

• Keep your pantry stocked with shelf-stable foods for easy packing. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, crackers, dry cereal, peanut butter, packaged pudding and canned fruits or meats.

• If you make sandwiches the night before, keep them in the refrigerator until packing up to go in the morning. Better yet, pack the whole lunch the night before and keep it in the refrigerator so that everything starts the day out cold.

How to keep lunch boxes from getting smelly:

• Most soft-sided lunch bags can be cleaned in a washing machine on the gentle cycle. Line dry.

• Clean hard-sided lunch boxes daily with hot, soapy water, or with antibacterial wipes.

• Leave the lid open overnight to allow to air dry.

• The hard plastic removable liners in lunchboxes should be cleaned daily with hot, soapy water and rinsed. Air dry.

For more information, contact Elisa at the CSU Moffat County Extension Office, 539 Barclay, 824-9180.

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